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Phia Group Media


HEALS vs. HEROES

By: Nick Bonds, Esq.
 

As the worldwide coronavirus crisis continues to grind on, impacting virtually every aspect of our lives, we have necessarily become familiar with the many pieces of legislation passed by Congress in its attempts to soften the blow to our country’s economic and healthcare systems. This has engendered a whole new can of alphabet soup: CARES, FFCRA, EFMLEA, EPSLA, PPP. Enacted late spring/early summer, these legislations have become staple pieces of the daily conversation in the arena of health benefits for employees. They’ve nearly begun to blend in with the furniture.
 

But as we are all keenly aware – these pieces of legislation were not designed to be permanent. Many of these temporary rules are set to expire by the end of 2020, with a number of the key components like the payroll protection program, already lapsing, many of us are looking back to Capitol Hill and wondering if and when more economic aid will be coming.
 

Democrats in the House of Representatives put together a follow-up aid package in May. Clocking in at roughly $3 trillion ($8 billion more, give or take, than its predecessor), the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act would echo much of the relief provided in the CARES Act. Direct stimulus checks to individuals, enhanced unemployment benefits, and in some ways would go even further by expanding the PPP and employee tax credits, expanding eviction protections, providing hazard pay to for essential workers, and allocating billions to assist schools and universities reopen safely.
 

Though the HEROES Act passed quickly in the House, the Republican-controlled Senate was reluctant to take up the legislation. Balking at the $3 trillion price tag, and perhaps holding out hope that the coronavirus would indeed recede in the warmer summer months and render further economic aid unnecessary, the Senate has finally put together its own approach to a new round of economic stimulus: the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act. Unveiled on July 27, the HEALS Act clocks in at a (relatively) svelte $1 trillion – putting a fairly clear number on just how far apart the two sides are in reaching a compromise.
 

The HEALS Act includes many of the provisions that proved so popular in the CARES Act: direct “economic impact” payments to individuals with money for dependents as well, enhanced (though significantly reduced) unemployment benefits, and expansions to the PPP and employee tax credit. The HEALS Act dodges some of the assistance provided under the HEROES Act: it is silent regarding eviction protections, provides less support for higher education institutions, and makes its aid to K-12 schools dependent upon their reopening. To Senate Republicans’ credit, the HEALS Act does address a number of things not touched on by either the FFCRA or the HEROES Acts. Namely, the HEALS Act provides $16 billion for coronavirus testing, introduces a potential “return to work” bonus for unemployed workers who secure new employment, and it contemplates a 5-year liability shield.


This last component, encapsulated within the SAFE TO WORK Act (a component of the HEALS Act), is likely of the greatest interest to employers. The bill is designed to shield businesses, schools, nonprofits, government agencies, and other organizations from coronavirus-related lawsuits, so long as they take “reasonable” efforts to follow public health guidelines and manage to avoid grossly negligent or intentional acts of misconduct.

Congress has yet to reach a deal on the next aid package, but there are many components on the table that could do a lot to help Americans through the next leg of this crisis, employees and employers alike. We’ll keep a weather eye on the legislation as it develops.